British remains (Running out of gear)

So far, so furry

So far, so furry

Things are falling apart. Specifically, British things. The stuff we brought with us, it’s not lasting forever, and I feel irrational surprise each time something we brought with us breaks or wears out. British stuff didn’t last forever in Britain, but it feels worse to see it degrading in the US.

Questions remain over key items we neglected to bring:

  • Beds
  • Dining room furniture

These things would have lasted, probably. And we liked them. And yet we left them, because they were big, and they were going to cost  a lot to ship, and we didn’t have the mental space to imagine our USA life with this stuff.

As for the things we did bring, some made sense:

  • electric toothbrush
  • electric shaver

Both of these require an American adapter to plug in, making us look like permanent tourists in our own bathroom.

My electric shaver was on its last legs back in Scotland. It’s worse now, it’s noisier, shaving is an exercise in patience.

This is the shaver I kept at work. I should be glad to toss it, but every quarter I oil the blades, hoping for one more run before the thing finally seizes up or delivers me a shuddering scar.

And some of the things we brought were just sad: 

  • stationery
  • batteries

And yeah, this stuff is running out now. I mail our rent check inside a Tesco envelope. And it cheers me, sending something so American in something so British. But I have 3 left. And what am I supposed to do? Buy envelopes?

Rebecca theorizes that I’m suffering from permanency-shock. That replacing our British tat means we’re staying, we’re stuck here whether we like it or not.

But I think it’s just that I’m cheap. I resent the fact that I brought  a 9 volt battery all the way to Tennessee only for it to fur up when I need it. Batteries are expensive here. I can’t bear to spend money on such things, and everything needs juice here. (Do they sell wind-up smoke alarms?)

I have a pencil leftover from my Scottish Government days, which says “No point to racism” (not my idea) and I take it to my classes, curious to see if any of the students will prefer it to the American (Made in China) #2 pencils on offer. It’s never chosen. It sits there, blue among the yellow, neglected.

English: Disassembled Philips electric shaver ...

English: Disassembled Philips electric shaver rotary head.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also brought four clocks.

(This made sense, because they have time here as well. They think they have less time, but really, it’s the same amount.)

The one clock that survived the journey and is thriving, is doing just fine thank you, is the British birds clock, with hourly chimes ranging from the charming blackbird to the frankly terrifying nightingale.

Three of our clocks have broken. We patched one back together, but the other two are hopeless. We took them to a clock repair guy, and he kindly explained that he repaired real clocks, not crappy ones we were keeping for sentimental value.

And perhaps this is the reason time has felt so elastic here, that two years have seemed like a blink, like a decade. I’m not sure what to do with these British scraps but I can’t throw them away.

Maybe Rebecca’s right. Maybe I’m afraid of staying here. Nothing’s standing still, we’re all getting older, all of us, all changing, my language adapts and acquiesces, and I’ll suddenly realize that yes, trunk does make more sense than boot.

We were supposed to bring the best of us along for this American treasure hunt. That was the idea, and I think it happened. But there’s baggage as well, there’s rust and scars, and I’m scared to let it go.

Even my British passport is ready to fall apart. It expires this year, threatening to leave me laughably without papers, if I don’t cough up the $250 renewal fee.

There’s a pair of pottery cats that we kept in our front bay window in Scotland. They made the trip just fine, but it’s been smash after smash since we got here. House moves and high winds leave our long-tailed objets repeatedly in pieces.

They’re sheltering upstairs these days, on the top of the filing cabinet, away from the weather and human interference, and I seek to fill the gaps with Loctite repair putty.  I can glue tails back together but they’re still away from home, and that was the plan, but I’m still afraid of doing this forever.  And I guess the only trick to this is to live it.

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American Hungry (Running out of options)

Las CebollasOur favorite restaurant has shut down. Before, if I wanted to lament the lack of decent food choices in town, I could afford to feel a little whimsy about it, but now I’m broken-hearted.

There are so many restaurants in Madison. We have four steakhouses in two blocks – Outback, Rafferty’s, Logan’s, Longhorn – this creates and illusion of choice and a reality of irritation.

And I understand now why it takes so long for the natives to agree on where to eat, why it’s so difficult to choose. Because you could have 20 good experiences at a restaurant, but if they get it wrong once, that’s it, you never want to go back.

I have some favorites, but mostly it’s like settling down to choose a movie on Netflix – is a choice of a thousand shitty movies (and Thor – I could watch Thor again) really a choice?

Steak 'n' Shake's California Double Steakburger - a restaurant I don't hate.

Steak ‘n’ Shake’s California Double Steakburger – a restaurant I don’t hate.

We become spoiled by familiarity, by security. I thought I had it figured out. For Mexican, we went to Las Cebollas. For “this is like a real night out and I’m going to wear a shirt with a collar” steak, we went to Longhorn (or rather, we let other people take us to Longhorn), for “getting home late and we don’t want to cook, and damn, I’m going to have a beer with this” Chinese we went to Panda Express. And then there are the extra-budget “I get the feeling  that someday something is going to go down at this place” options of Ryan’s and Steak ‘n’ Shake – my less than guilty pleasures that I love for the duration of the meal and then spend the rest of the day regretting.

There is the pretense at Italian food – the wide-eyed, cold-plated horror of the Olive Garden, and Fazoli’s, which has a menu and prices I’m tempted by but have been forbidden to enter. (It’s said that the food at Fazoli’s is like school dinners, but I liked school dinners).

And then there are the burgers, which I rarely buy but take seriously when I do.  I can enjoy breakfast at McDonalds but I couldn’t eat their burgers. I can love a #1 or, belt allowing, #2 at Sonic, but it has to be the right Sonic. Wendy‘s is great, but hey, is it really so great, or have I just turned it into something so mythical that it will inevitably disappoint? Checkers, oh dear, I will never go back to Checkers.

You don’t go to Burger King in Rivergate, even when you have coupons, because they will take forever and then give you the wrong order anyway, and so you will cut out the coupons but keep them in your car until they expire, and then throw them away, feeling like the worst victim of a zipcode lottery. The burgers help me understand why you can drive through a town with every fast-food place imaginable and still see nothing you want. And God forbid you’re sharing the ride with another adult – no one can agree, because we’ve all been burned by these nasty restaurant, because our tastebuds have broken, because we’re tired, and a little bit sickly, and already thinking about what we’ll do after dinner anyway, so why can’t we just have food injections instead?

When I arrived in Tennessee, the restaurants were a mysterious blur, and then I got to know them, and for a period of time that I can never get back, I loved them. Applebee’s, Chilli’s, O’Charley’s…I couldn’t fault them, mainly because there were so much more enjoyable than so many British restaurants – not so much for food quality, but just in the sense that they’re actually open and you can get parked.  But now I’m like the rest of us here, and I see the holes, and I feel ripped off even when the check is absurdly cheap, and the food is just not good, and I feel sorry for the staff, and most of all I wonder why, driving past, how all of these bad restaurants stay in business, why they’re so busy on a Monday night, and of course I know why – we’re just so damn lazy – and I look at restaurant customers and they’re not having a good time, this is nothing special, it’s not close to a treat – the only positive emotion on display is relief that we’re not at home, that there won’t be washing up.

In December we rolled up to Las Cebollas and the doors were locked and the lights were out. And now we’re screwed, because this was the one place we agreed on, the one place that was inexpensive but not nasty, where the staff were friendly but not cloying, where it seemed…authentic but that didn’t matter anyway, because I just know that Rebecca and I, we knew what we were going to have before we walked through the door, and we felt comfortable to have the best conversations of our American lives in that place. We worked things out in there.

And we’ll never know what happened to the owners, and I wonder if the staff are finding other jobs, and then I think, really? Were we that close? Were they on our Christmas card list? And this illusion of intimacy, of making a closed down business somehow about me, it’s one of the least endearing parts of my American assimilation.

So instead of the angst that I don’t deserve, we’ll look for a new place we can boast about (and if you don’t count the number of times we’re mentioned in the violent crime news stories on newschannel5.com we are so very low of things to boast about in Madison). We tried Las Fiestas for Mexican, but it didn’t come close. There’s Fat Juicy Taco, which is special in a different way, but that’s in Hendersonville.  So the search goes on for a lazy-meal restaurant, for the place to go for dinner that costs under $30 for our big/little night out – or we face the alternative; flying back to Edinburgh once a week for a smoked sausage supper. And to be honest, I doubt anything we find here will ever come close to that level of raw indulgence.

Dear Murphy (2 years)

Dear Murphy,

I’m going to write. And then I’m going to stop. And I won’t mess with it.

I’ve been waiting a year to write this. And now I’m speechless. Maisy is sitting on the desk, crying for attention, rubbing against everything she sees. It’s like she knows she’s not the cat I’m focusing on right now.

Okay. It’s 2 years since you died. And now we have 3 cats. 3, as it turns out, is so much more than 2.

Maisy and Daisy, sisters we brought them home as kittens in January.

Daisy is a conventional house-cat  happy to chase flies around the house, affectionate, hungry. She has a variety of purrs, from needy to hungry, and the sweetest, sleepiest look on her face when she’s happy. Her grunty purr, her wind-herself-around-your-ankles as you walk downstairs as you head, surely, to the kitchen – that is my favorite of her purrs. She is our hungry cat.

Maisy is hysterical, with an emergency siren miaow, that’s at its most irritating when she wants outside. And she always wants outside. There are feral cats, around here, in a country of abandoned and neglected animals. There are multiple hazards, and Maisy is asking for it, she charges head-first into trouble. Maybe it’s this quality, the certainty that she will end up causing me grief, that makes her my favourite. She is slight, but she is a wannabe killer, of birds, squirrels, of anything we share the garden with. She is ready to fight, and she adores me, and yeah, sucker that I am, she is surely my favourite.

Maisy is named for our Scottish side, our Morningside, and Daisy for the South, our Daisy Duke. They’re both beautiful, I love my girls. Both these kittens are rarely afraid, and they are never afraid of me. This makes me happy. And they wrestle each other, romping and crashing through the house. And they both can yawn and miaow at the same time, which strikes me like a magic trick every time.

Sully, we found him by the swimming pool of our old home, abandoned and hungry. I fed him daily for two months, and then we took him with us to the new house. (It was during this time, when I was calling shelters and trying to find him a good home that wasn’t ours, that I realised how you broke me, broke the cat part of me.)

Sully is a big boy, with a growling miaow, eager to please but still so very nervous. He’s been let down, he’s been left behind. And it’s because of you that I took him in, because I made a promise, some absurd promise to a dead cat that I’d treat cats right, that I’d do the hard stuff.

We took Sully to a shelter but I couldn’t leave him there; ten minutes after letting them take him we were back to say we’d changed our minds. It was a very Disney ending for Sully, but it was you I was thinking of.

Rebecca tells me that my feelings about you, my guilt and shuddering grief that won’t go away, that this is a problem. She’s right about that. I’m still broken over you. I’m supposed to let it go, the shame of letting you down, and I’m supposed to let you go. But I’m afraid to do that. Neither of us have a Heaven to go to, there’s no reunion, and this wasteful, worthless grief, it must be better than saying goodbye. Writing it down,  it’s ridiculous, but I must have a good reason for holding onto these feelings. If it wasn’t doing something for me, I’d just fucking stop it, right?

Maisy doesn’t like it when I cry. She’s provoked, disturbed. I don’t cry often these days, I’ve managed to cut a lot of that out, which is good, which is an improvement on the first year.

It was a hard decision to get the kittens. Maisy and Daisy were Rebecca’s choice, which she was entitled to. I’d wanted adult cats, but there were too many that looked like you, and that would’ve been impossible. We were in the adoption part of PetSmart, where the rescued cats do their daily audition. It was a struggle for me to  keep my shit together. But we brought them home and it’s been a good thing.

Our 3 cats. They are nothing like you. They are not as clever, or stubborn, not as vicious, not (so far) as lethal.  I have grown to love the kittens, no confusion there, they are here to be adored. And I’m fond of Sully,  I want him to lose the fear and anxiety he exudes.

But I fell for you, the moment I saw you.

I’m just so very sad about you. You’d like this house, the sun, the garden. You’d like the kids. You always like hanging out with the kids. And given the choice, I’d make the swap in a heartbeat. Them for you.

But you broke, you died. And I remember that day.

And I find more, not less things to feel guilty about. The food we bought you, prescription stuff, expensive, turns out it’s crap compared to what we’re buying for the cats now. I should have done better research. And the vet? I agonized over that, checked out plenty, not like with you, finding the one closest to home. But of course, with better food and a better vet, you’d still be dead. We could’ve fed you fresh chicken every night and you’d still have gone out hunting.

Maisy and Daisy love to be held, something you never put up with for very long.

We have some photos of you on the wall in a single frame. I see those every day, that’s fine. And there’s a painting of our impossible-family, with you and the cattens together, and I can look at that. But I can’t look at other photos, I can’t look at video. Because if I do, there’s a moment of surprise, of unfamiliarity, because you don’t look like our every day cats. You’re from before, you’re from long gone.

But I think about you every day. And it’s part of my job of fixing myself, of surviving and succeeding in our American life, to pay respect and remember you clearly. And I know you’re so much more than those last few weeks.

This isn’t good writing, it’s not designed. I’m not going back to over it.  It’s just for me and you. I wanted to write something today, just something to tell you that things are different and yet they’re partly the same, that a lot of wonderful cat things have happened this year, and that I’m still ripped up. And that you’re the best one, nothing will ever come close again.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at your old photos, your snips of video. I’ll be clearer about how you looked, how you moved. I’ll feel closer, and that will hurt. But it’ll be a little bit better, too. And this is okay.

And the truth is, I’m better about all of this than I was 12 months ago. I’m still ruined, but I’m better. And next time, I’ll write something that’s less scattered. And in the meantime, I’ll look after our cats, because I promised you I would. And I agree, that’s a mostly crazy promise, but I feel better for sticking to it.

Murphy, I remember the day we found you, I remember the day we lost you, and I remember plenty of what came in-between. I love you, I miss you, and for now and forever, rest in peace.

Still moving (and shaking)

We moved again, our third in 18 months, and I suppose it was the least stressful, same town, keeping our zip code, but it was also the most irritating. It takes something on the scale of a house-move to let you know if you have your shit together, and in some areas, I clearly do not.

The new house is bigger, and the location is better. I’m not sure these benefits were worth the hell of moving.

So much stress and uncertainty at a time when I was thinking, “Wow, I think I might need a vacation after all.” But we’re here now, already playing host and entertaining at a time when I can’t even remember where the can-opener / light-switch / back door is.

Moving is an unsolicited opportunity to second-guess everything we’re doing here. Work, play, litter-tray location, it’s all up for grabs.  Continue reading

My one year American anniversary (Exclusive interview!)

one year anniversary candleThis month Fledgling Immigrant Digest is proud to bring you an exclusive interview with that most reserved, yet adorable, yet irascible (yet curiously alluring) Edinburgh to Nashville immigrant, Difficult Second Novel, on his first anniversary of arriving in the United States. 

Fledgling Immigrant Digest: How are you?

Difficult Second Novel: Bit tired. Also doing the allergic coughing thing a lot today. I’d like to change the air-conditioning filter to get one that can get rid of all the pollen and dust but I can’t find one at Lowe’s or online that’s the right size. It’s a nuisance. My eyes are so itchy, I reckon I’m a rub away from waking up with conjunctivitis.

I was just saying “hi”.

Oh. I thought maybe you were British.

I’m not.

Got it.

Interview continued on page 73.

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This one’s for all you ladies out there (International Women’s Day)

International Women's Day logo

Between 2005 and 2007, International Women’s Day was part of my job description. My working year revolved around this day. Sometimes the projects were worthy, sometimes they were…less so.

It’s not something I get paid to care about anymore. And I doubt anyone I run into today will ask me what I’m doing for IWD2012. But yeah, I do still care, just a little wee bit.

To mark the occasion, and because this time I get to choose the worthy, here are 3 women who have been taking up space in my head recently for all the right reasons:

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American TV Pt. 2 (There’s Something On)

I know. This is where the British wanker tells you how bad American TV is (I hate that guy!). Brits delight in reporting this as if 1) they’ve never seen British TV and 2) Americans didn’t already know.

Yes, Americans know that American TV is very bad but they watch it anyway, because TV is in itself a fabulous invention, and even bad American TV can be a treat. The British situation is very similar.

Now there’s something sweet about watching American TV as a Brit when you’re not living there forever.

When you’re there on vacation, or on a finite working visa, you can watch it and quickly dismiss it. Because you don’t understand the TV Guide (and the time zones? Oh how they kill me) and the channels names don’t make sense, because you’ve heard of NBC, ABC etc but where are they on the remote? How do you make them happen? Let me tell you, Channel 4 in the UK – you press 4. BBC1? You press 1. In the US you have to find the channel by surfing and then they let you know what number they are. Fox 17, what are you doing out there? You’re a proper channel, but you don’t get to sit with the other big boys.

And what’s on? Nothing but commercials, and the TV news is horrible, nothing but store openings and house fires and shootings, and did anything outside of the US and Iraq happen today? Apparently not. Unless a European leader gets beer spilled on her, we could care less.

But this is all okay, because you’re leaving soon, and you can add the American TV = crap to your quiver of anecdotes and the folks at home will adore you for it.

But if you plan on living here forever, you have to find a way to make American TV work… Continue reading